One inspirational tool that's important is to recognize work—celebrate the small victories—because they will motivate people to keep going.
Knowing when to push on is among the hardest nuances CEOs must manage, Thompson says.
"You have to find that balance, because if all we do is drive people, they end up getting pretty tired of being driven," Thompson says. "But if all you do is celebrate every time they turn around, and everybody gets a trophy for participating, you're not going to get to excellence on that."
Thompson reiterates the importance of recognizing wins when they come, but it is up to the leadership team to keep making the transitions to the next step.
His message: "Please take a minute to celebrate and then remember, we're out there to serve our community to the best of our ability, and your abilities are immense. We haven't tapped them all yet. Please help me to keep working on this."
Barwis pushed an aggressive pace of change in his first years as CEO.
"I would just hit the wall with 100 things, and I would just kind of keep people off balance," Barwis says. "I was constantly asking, ‘Do we do this? How do we get this forward?' And I could always look back at the end of the year at what we accomplished. But it left people with a knot in their stomach. If you keep pushing and you never stop, the consequence often is that people feel like they're not good enough and they can't step up."
Barwis says he learned to shift his approach back to the "big measurable, quantifiable things" such as nursing Magnet® status.
Don't accept trade-offs
Cause and effect has been an occasional worry as health systems look to improve everything from quality to patient satisfaction at the same time, with the fear being that improvement is a zero-sum game that might boost one area but cause a dip in another.
Thomas H. Lee, MD, an internist and cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and chief medical officer of Press Ganey, says that a core set of goals work together at high-performing health systems.
"To get change to move is a combination of the responsibility of senior leaders to set clarity on aspirational goals and activities that will get people excited about leaning into it, and then giving them the tools to do that that are within their grasp and supported by the organization."
—Jeff Thompson, MD, executive adviser and chief executive officer emeritus, Gundersen Health System
Jim Molpus is an editor for HealthLeaders.